I receive many questions about living with a dog in the desert. Certainly, many Phoenix-area residents have dogs as pets, but living in a region where summer temperatures can be higher than 100°F for a good part of the summer means that there are some things you should know to keep your pet happy and healthy. Living in the desert means making adjustments.
Things to Know About Having a Dog in the Desert Heat
- Dogs in the House
The best situation for your dog would be to have the dog be trained as an indoor pet, where she can keep cool inside the air-conditioned house during the hot summer days. Keep the thermostat at a reasonable temperature for your pet.
- Dogs in the Yard
If the dog must be kept in the yard during the hot parts of the day in the summer it is absolutely essential that there be a dark, shady place where the dog can escape from the blazing sun. A tree is probably not good enough. A ventilated dog house, or a pen with shade cover, or a covered patio is a must. Make sure that there is adequate shade at all times of the day that the dog is outside.
- Dogs and Water
If the dog is outside, make certain that there is a good supply of clean water in a weighted dish (or two in different locations in case one gets knocked over anyway).
- Keeping Dogs Cool
Some dogs enjoy the water and can keep cool if a misting system is left on during the day, or if there's a kiddy wading pool for them with a couple of inches of water in it where they can sit to cool off. Keep these in the shade, too. Sitting in a tub of 110-degree water won't help the dog. Some people I know say that they provide a sandbox with damp sand for the dog. Digging must be allowed in the sandbox--you'll only frustrate a dog with a sandbox where digging is not permitted!
- Dogs in the Pool
If your dog has access to your swimming pool or spa, make sure the dog is trained to get out of the pool. The dog needs to know how to get to the steps. If there are no steps or shallow areas, like in some lap pools, make sure the pool is fenced and locked so the dog can't get in. Every year puppies and dogs drown in backyard pools because they could jump in, but they couldn't get out.
- Dogs That Swim
Speaking of dogs that love to swim, we know that there are certain breeds that were born to do just that, and they are ever-so-happy cooling off at the beach or at the lake. Here's the problem--we don't have a beach in Phoenix, and animals are not allowed in our lakes or canals. Even if they were, you wouldn't want your dog wading in, or even drinking, the water in our local lakes which are mostly reclaimed water and can easily make your pet very sick. If you have a breed that must play in the water, there is only one place in the Valley where you can take her, and it is in Gilbert.
- Walking the Dog in the Summer
Can you walk your dog in the summer? Yes, but it is generally accepted that you should only walk your dog early in the morning or later in the evening, about an hour after the sun has gone down. That's because not only is the temperature high, but the sidewalks will be too hot for the pads of the dog's paws. They'll burn. General rule: if the sidewalk is too hot for you to walk barefoot, it is too hot for your dog to walk on. If you choose to walk your dog in the summer, hopefully early or late, bring along water and make frequent water stops for the dog. Don't take long walks or over-exert in the summer. Consider these walks light exercise.
- Dogs and Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is common in dogs. It can happen your own yard, or on a walk. Dogs cool themselves by panting. If panting does not reduce the body temperature the dog will develop heat stroke. Early signs of heat exhaustion include rapid breathing, heavy panting, and salivation. Other signs are fatigue, muscle tremors, and staggering. If you see a dog that is experiencing heat exhaustion, take the dog to a cool, shady place, and apply wet towels or cloths to help cool the dog's body down. Try to give the dog small amounts of water, and immediately call a vet.
- Dogs and the Sun
Dogs get sunburned. Especially dogs with short hair or little hair on some parts of their bodies. Keep them out of the sun.
- Hiking with the Dog in the Summer
Like to hike with your dog? Please do it very early in the morning. Carry plenty of water, and make it the easy hike, please.
- Dogs Breeds That Don't Like Heat
Overweight and older dogs will have more difficulty with the heat. As far as breeds are concerned, it is generally accepted that snub-nosed dogs, like boxers, bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, Lhasa apsos and shih tzus have poor panting mechanisms, and so are more susceptible to being affected by heat. These should be indoor dogs, and should not be kept in the yard during the day. They should spend their days lounging in air conditioned comfort. Dogs with heavy coats can be trimmed for the summer, but not shaved bare or else they'll have a hard time insulating themselves and will be prone to sunburn and other skin irritations.
- Dogs and Summer Exercise
It's never a good idea to exercise your dog by having him run alongside your bicycle. If for some reason you do this from time to time, please don't do it in the summer.
- Dogs and Trucks
If your dog loves to travel in the back of your pickup, please avoid the temptation. If for some reason you must take your dog with you in the back of your truck, make sure the surface of where the dog has to sit/stand is not metal, and does not absorb heat. Test it. Leave your truck out in the sun for two hours and then go stand in it for 20 minutes in your bare feet (or sit on it with your bare butt!). If it feels hot to you, or it burns the skin right off your body, it feels that way to your dog, too.
- Dogs in the Car
I know that Fido loves to ride in the car, too. I've never met a dog that didn't. If you are going to run some errands, and it's 100 degrees outside, and the dog wants to come along in the car, please do him a favor and leave him home. If for some reason you have to take him along, do not ever leave him in the car without the A/C on. Even with the windows cracked, that car will heat up fast enough to cause brain damage or death in just a few minutes.
Using common sense, and taking some of these tips into account, you should be able to keep a happy healthy pet in our desert climate. I say it every summer. Your dog does not have to go everywhere with you. If, for some reason, your dog is out and about with you during our hot summer days, don't get so busy or distracted that it puts your dog in danger.